Dear “Nice” Leavers (you know who you are)… you have to admit that you have lost. For now.
There are nice “Leavers”. I get who and what you are, where you are coming from and what you want. Some of you are Bennite socialists, others are liberals with an acute concern with questions of governance and accountability. Many of you are angry with the EU’s treatment of Greece and Portugal. Your concern is with powerful people making decisions far away from local communities. You feel that leaving the EU will restore a sense of sovereignty – at a community level as well as a national level. I believe you are very wrong about that, but you’re good people. I get you.
You are not racists or xenophobes. Nor are you selfish insular types who hate the thought of Britain helping out other nations. You have a vision of a version of Britain outside the EU, responsible to its own citizens but forging generous alliances with other nations around the world and collaborating flexibly with progressive endeavours.
But you have lost. And if “Leave” wins on Thursday, then your vision of Britain will be further away than ever.
Because you have lost control of the campaign – if you ever had it. The ugly xenophobic strand in the “Leave” campaign has not been the lunatic fringe of a sensible argument. It has been in the driving seat throughout. You sane and humane people have been the impotent tail of a mad dog. Rather than enlist your arguments, the Leave campaign has focused on lies and distortions in order to whip up fear and hatred.
A question you have to ask yourselves, my nice leavers, is “does it matter how a campaign is fought, so long as the right result is obtained?” I put it to you that it does matter, very much indeed (not that leaving is the right result). When the Leave campaign has been told that they are lying about their £350,000,000 a week story and lying about their claim that Turkey is about to join the EU, then they just repeat the lie – louder. This is not your fault, but it is the fault of the dominant and most successful strand of the Leave campaign. If “Leave” win this referendum it will be a victory for lying and lying loud and this has implications beyond this campaign. A victory for louder lying will be replicated in future campaigns and the future of British democracy will belong to whoever can afford to amplify the loudest lies. Some day there may be some other good cause you wish to promote and you may assemble important evidence in favour of your good cause, only to find your good cause blown away by those wealth is inexhaustible and whose shame is negligible. Truth will cease to be a relevant commodity in British political debate. Its stoc has already been dangerously compromised.
If “Leave” win on Thursday, UKIP will be exultant and feel vindicated. Farage’s brand of clumsy and casual prejudice will become a dominant and perhaps permanent signature of British identity. Michael Gove, promoter of ignorance and philistinism, will become a powerful figure within the new administration. And the new Prime Minister will almost certainly be Boris Johnson, a serial proven impenitent liar who has no relationship with truth, who contradicts himself shamelessly from day to day, and whose only allegiance is to whatever flatters his gargantuan ego at any given time.
And in his prison cell, Thomas Mair will punch the air in triumph, feeling that it was all worth while.
It’s unfair to taint a whole campaign with the worst excesses of a few extremists. Surely the argument should be about issues rather than personalities? But the character of Britain defined by the political winners of a “Leave” campaign as it’s actually been waged. will not be compatible with any expansive definition of freedom. Of course, “Britain” will not last very long anyway as Scotland will rightly claim another independence referendum which will surely result in a victory for Independence. The truncated polity that would be left, led by the victors of a “Leave” vote, would use their influence to further erode workers rights, further erode public services, and create a race to the bottom offshored tax haven of a nation in which big money consolidates its monopoly of governance and which consolidates an official culture of “kickdownism” in which the problems of the economically aggrieved are always addressed downwards, towards foreigners, the unemployed and the disabled.
The future needs rational Euroscepticism. Europe needs rational Euroscepticism. Europe needs to keep justifying itself and examining itself. The EU must never be allowed to take itself for granted. So here’s what you should do. You should pray for a Remain vote on Thursday. Actually, you should do better than pray – you should answer your own prayers and vote Remain on Thursday. Then you should go away and put together a careful plan for what a generous and internationalist Britain outside the EU would look like. And you should cost this plan.
You should present a clear and costed vision of how Britain can be a generous, tolerant and prosperous nation outside the EU. If you believe in Britain, then you believe that the British people deserve as much. If you believe that the British people do not deserve such a careful and honest plan – if you believe that the British people can only be swayed by lies and fear – then Britain is obviously not a nation that deserves to exist for much longer anyway.